This will be a long post! I am currently writing this in the upper reading room of the Bodleian Library at the end of 1st week. With all of the old books you can’t check out, rows and rows of desks, Latin everywhere (thank goodness for the term of Latin I took two years ago), and intricate designs, the history in here is amazing and it makes it just a little intimidating to procrastinate my tutorial readings. I thought it would be nice to recap what new things I’ve done in Freshers’ Week (or 0 week) and 1st week. Obviously, many things are different this year, so my experiences will not reflect the traditional experience, though Hertford and Oxford have done a good job preserving some normalcy. To any prospective students reading this, I hope the pandemic is over by the time you may arrive in Oxford.
This week didn’t really feel exciting for me as a 3rd year student, though I could technically participate in some Freshers activities (note that “freshers” is the UK term for first-year students). I did attend the virtual Freshers’ Fair put on by the Oxford Student Union and an academic skills session, though I think those were it. It was, however, shocking to see students in Oxford and in the building I had been living in for a week. My college has grouped students by floor into households of 6 or more people, wherein we don’t need to wear masks (though I do); my household has 7 other people and they’re all super great!
Since I had been busy all summer, I had A LOT of work to do before my tutorials started this week. For those interested, I read Joyce’s Dubliners, Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories, and Forster’s A Passage to India and wrote three papers (the first two were 750-1000 words and the Forster was 1500-2000 words). Oxford is fast-paced and very fond of huge workloads, so I was excited to book space in the English Faculty Library almost every day that week. Slots then were either 10-12:30pm or 1-4pm and they filled up pretty quickly. Masks are required the entire time you are there, seats are marked to keep distance, and everyone must sanitize their desk before and after use.
As a sort of present to myself, I booked some fun activities at the end of the week. I did a scavenger hunt around Oxford with some of my “parents,” saw University Parks with my “college mom,” went to Modern Art Oxford, toured the Oxford Castle and Prison, was going to try rowing on the Thames (alas, that did not work out), and was going to visit the Ashmolean Museum (it also did not work out because I had too much homework). I learned that weekend that it is very easy to overbook yourself here, and if it gets too overwhelming, it’s ok to cancel things and take time for yourself.
This week brought a lot of new experiences for me. I am pretty sure I am gaining a mental map of Oxford (I don’t rely on Google Maps as heavily now), I had Hassan’s (a very popular food truck; I had the best hummus I’ve ever had, along with falafel, chicken kebab, and naan), I studied in the Bodleian, I used Hertford’s marquee (where they are serving food in a non-indoor venue for lunch), and, of course, I had both of my tutorials (in-person). In short, tutorials are very different to what I am used to in the United States; you do a lot of work on your own and then have an hour meeting with your tutor, who gives feedback for you, but you are also expected to contribute to a conversation and ask a lot of questions. It is not a lecture nor office hours, and there are no other students to take over if you don’t know the answer to a question. Maybe I made it sound scary, but I didn’t feel scared during mine; I really liked them and my tutors are really great. My Colonial Literature tutorial (major tutorial) will meet next week again, but my Modernist Short Stories tutorial (minor tutorial) won’t meet again until 3rd week.
I should probably get back to work now and stop pretending that my weekend started yesterday after my last tutorial finished, but I am starting to feel like I know what’s going on now, which is good news.